Joint Committee verdict on draft Domestic Abuse Bill: ‘silent’ on the plight of children

Posted by Kate Maher / Friday 14 June 2019 / Law
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It’s a turbulent time in British politics, with the election of a new Conservative Party leader – our next Prime Minister – just days away. However, today’s report on the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, makes clear that whoever wins the leadership contest cannot be distracted from addressing the difficult issues so many people in this country struggle with every day. 

The report published today by the parliamentary committee scrutinising the draft Domestic Abuse Bill demonstrates that, while the Government has been listening to concerns (explored in previous blogs) the Bill is still pretty much 'silent [on] the plight of children who are victims of domestic abuse'.

Action for Children has played a key role in changing the conversation on the Bill in the past year, so the needs of children are not an afterthought.

We welcome the fact that the Committee's recommendations echo what Action for Children and others with experience of supporting both adult and child survivors have been calling for.

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Statutory definition

One of the key changes the Bill would make to current legislation is the introduction of a new statutory definition of domestic abuse. This would cover coercive and controlling behaviour and economic abuse, as well as physical and sexual abuse.

However, similarly to Action for Children, the Committee had concerns over the absence of children from the definition, as this could potentially have a negative impact on the support services made available to them. The Bill is a big opportunity to change how we as a society respond to domestic abuse. If children are not in the definition, then they won’t be seen as a priority and won’t get the help they need.

We are pleased to see that the Committee has listened to us, and recommended that the Bill be amended so the status of children as victims of the domestic abuse that occurs in their household is recognised.  

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Services for children

It is important to remember that children can be supported to recover from their terrible experiences of domestic abuse. As we know from the support we offer some children and young people at Action for Children, services like therapeutic counselling can really help children to overcome the trauma of what they've been through.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government recently announced proposals to introduce a statutory duty on local authorities to deliver support to survivors of domestic abuse and their children in safe accommodation, like refuges. The idea is that these proposals will be added to the Bill.

It is a great first step, but many adults and children affected will never go into a refuge. The Committee picked up on this too, and asked that the Government provide clarity on how non-accommodation based support services such as counselling support services will be provided and funded too.

Domestic Abuse Commissioner

The Bill is to introduce a Domestic Abuse Commissioner who will provide public leadership on domestic abuse issues and support oversight of the provision of domestic abuse services.  

When our Head of Policy and Research Eleanor Briggs gave evidence to the Joint Committee, she underlined concerns around the independence of the role from Government, if the Commissioner is to be as effective as possible.

The Committee has now recommended that the Commissioner should not be required to submit draft reports to the Home Secretary, or obtain the approval of the Home Secretary for their annual strategic plan. The Commissioner should also be responsible to the Cabinet Office and accountable to Parliament. 

It is clear that the Committee's report is extremely comprehensive, and that they have taken the needs of children, as well as other groups of people with specific needs, into account.

What remains to be seen is how the Government, which has tried hard to engage with some of the concerns and ideas raised so far, but is also soon to be under the leadership of a new Prime Minister, take their recommendations forward.